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Giving 85%, not 100%, could make you more productive

You might find yourself actually finishing your to-do list if you don’t put pressure on yourself to do so. (Envato Elements pic)

Productivity has become a key factor for most businesses – it’s why executives and managers often urge their teams to “give 100%”. However, some entrepreneurs and professional coaches recommend operating at 85% rather than 100% to optimise efficiency at work.

This so-called 85% rule involves not trying to maximise one’s abilities at all costs. It’s about accepting that we can’t give 110% in all we do – not out of laziness, but out of realism.

In fact, it’s often difficult to get to the end of your to-do list because people tend to list tasks, professional or personal, that need to be completed as quickly as possible. As the days go by, these reminders grow so long that they’re tempted to add “finish the to-do list” to the endless list of current objectives.

As such, it would be simpler and more pragmatic to assume you won’t be able to complete all the tasks on your to-do list. Instead, it would be better to concentrate on achieving 85% of them, rather than striving to accomplish everything.

You might even find yourself actually finishing the to-do list in record time if you don’t put pressure on yourself to do so.

This is the philosophy behind the 85% rule. Followers of this personal-development method see it as a positive rejection of the quest to perform optimally – in other words, they believe you’re more productive when you’re not trying to be.

And sports science might prove them right: a 2007 study reported that low-intensity training sessions made long-distance runners perform better than programmes that push them to give their all. They tended to run faster when not focused on achieving the best possible time.

Less, but better

While the notion of “good stress” does exist, stress often has a negative impact on employees, with symptoms ranging from extreme fatigue to digestive problems, loss of sleep, irritability, depression, and more.

This state of tension is detrimental to physical and mental well-being, especially if it is experienced regularly. And this is the case for 44% of working people worldwide, according to data from Gallup.

A number of factors contribute to employee stress, including excessive workloads, tensions with superiors and/or colleagues, lack of autonomy – and increased pressure to improve productivity.

Indeed, modern management is based on a logic of results: employees are assessed on the basis of their ability to meet objectives set by their superiors, rather than on the quality of their work.

Supporters of the 85% rule want to see a paradigm shift. They refuse to work themselves to death, keeping their effort levels in check to ensure that their work is recognised for its true worth.

Some might be tempted to see this as a form of disengagement, rather than a desire to excel in one’s work without sinking into work-related stress.

“Instead of ‘maximum effort equals maximum results’, a better formula is, ‘optimal effort equals maximum results’. Less effort can actually lead to more success,” writes Greg McKeown, author of “Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less”, in the “Harvard Business Review”.

So, could it be time to rethink the very concept of productivity?